September 2019School of Diplomacy News

Interview with a Critical Language Scholar

Julia Nicolls
Staff Writer

Fresh off nine weeks in Morocco, senior diplomacy major and women and gender studies minor Emma Tobin recently received the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to continue her Arabic language learning. Sponsored by the United States State Department and funded by the United States Government, the CLS prepares university students to master a foreign language and has, therefore, become a nationally competitive award.

Initially, Tobin discovered the CLS while spending 4 months in Morocco during her gap year before starting college. “When I saw the high school version of the [CLS] in Morocco, I regretted not knowing about the program before. Since then, I have been applying for the scholarship since my Freshman year at Seton Hall,” Tobin stated. 

Despite two previously unsuccessful attempts, Tobin never discouraged herself and learned from each round of applications. “Applying after spending 9 months interning with the State Department, something just clicked,” she says. With the mentors at her State Department internship and the help of Diplomacy’s School’s Dr. Kyle Younger, Tobin cracked the code. 

“When I open the congratulatory email, my mom almost crashed the car,” Tobin describes, “I broke out into tears and she thought something bad had happened.”

After receiving this initial email, Tobin obtained her placement in Meknes, Morocco. Daily life, as Tobin describes, consisted of “consistent language learning for the entirety of the 9-week program.” Upon arrival, initial training is done in English, and then the students make a pledge, “to only speak Arabic for the remainder of the program.” 

Tobin found herself learning the different Arabic dialects daily from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. Although this language learning was extremely rigorous, Tobin began her trip “feeling rusty and unsure of [her] Arabic skills and ended the program having complex conversations about Middle Eastern politics.”

Tobin describes an instance during her time, where she was laying in the Sahara Desert with some of her peers looking at the stars. “It reminded me about how surreal this experience was… and how few people get to have that,” she stated. 

In addition, Tobin made an extremely strong connection with her host mother, and the chocolate cake she made every morning. Her kindness and hospitality made the CLS an unforgettable experience.

Tobin encouraged all those interested in CLS to apply. “You never know what can happen,” she said. As a competitive program, Tobin left everyone with a piece of advice: “Tell your story, not the one you think they want to hear. Talking about moving from home to New Jersey for school can be applicable to adjusting to a different culture. Whatever it is, just tell your story.”

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